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One thing I hear from a lot of writers is this….They don’t want the massive edit which happens when you don’t plot but if they do plot… the story will be too predictable. For the record, I don’t think they’re wrong, some writers can’t do it…but it’s because they’re not doing it right for them.
Does this sound familiar?
There’s ways to plan an unpredictable twist. (That sounds like an oxymoron haha)
Think of it like this: When plotting you’re probably putting in the next logical step. When writing you’re daydreaming and living the story, right? Don’t make that mistake, don’t be the writer that plots from a logical stand point then tries to write from a creative mind.
Writers should visualize their plots, writers should create worlds which are so tangible they could live outside of their heads. This is also how a plot should be crafted. But often, it isn’t.
If you still think plotting will make you predictable, but are tired of writers block and piles of edits, here are some practical tips to avoid it.
Have a Million Plot Ideas
Ok, maybe a million is exaggerating but like I just said…authors when plotting (sometimes) throw in the next logical step instead of dreaming up ideas.
Throw in that step, then throw in another, then another, then another, scrap them all and start again. Come up with so many plot points you’re straining to think of any more. I recommend shooting for 15 different directions the story can go. Then scrap them and come up with 5 more.
Which of those 5 excite you? Awesome, that should be your next plot point.
If you want a worksheet that walks you through this process, you can put in your info and download it here!
Make a Character Obviously Evil
JK Rowling did this in Harry Potter with Snape. She had you constantly guessing and almost certain he was evil. Then she hit you with the twist, Snape was on Harry’s side all along, in fact Snape loved Lilly.
BOOM. MIND. BLOWN.
Notice how she strung you along, but the satisfying twist was in the reason WHY he wasn’t evil. NOT that he was good and Harry just screwed up because that would have left people groaning, “Why did you string us along for so long?” It’s satisfying because it reveals the final piece of that character that we missed, that Harry missed, a piece that is satisfying and heart warming.
On a smaller note she also did this with Draco who saved Harry’s life in the final book. Along with Draco’s mother. In fact JK Rowling does this all over the place.
Even though you questioned whether or not they were evil, did it make it predictable when they weren’t? Or where? With all that emotion behind it?
No it was freaking satisfying!
Do this. Make a character you can’t trust, then tell us why trusting him was right or wrong, anchor it to some emotional drive, and you have a beautiful plot twist.
Do the Bait and Switch
First off, that title should be a dance, just saying.
Do you have a semi obvious plot line after following through with the million ideas section? One you’re not going to use, because that would be soooo predictable. Awesome, make the book look like it’s going that way, then go the opposite way.
Bait your reader into certainty and then hit them with the shocker.
Why? Because readers like mystery, but they’re also cocky. They think they know what you’re about to say, they’re rolling their eyes at you and then BAM.
You hit ’em.
How you like that reader? HUH!? HUH!? Okay I’m done haha. Of course there will always be someone who see’s it coming, but that’s not necessarily because you are a bad writer, take a look at what Danny Boyle had to say on the subject.
A lot of authors do this but it’s still really fun.
Darren Shan is one of my favorite MG writers and if you haven’t read his series Darren Shan yet…go…what are you waiting for! If you want to learn twists, suspense, world building and the art of forcing you to turn the page even after a chapter ends….read his first series.
Bare in mind when you do, this is Middle Grade fiction and aimed to a younger audience. There’s no flash bang prose in his books, just straight up story telling.
One of the things he does is use code. I don’t want to spoiler alert you, but there’s a name in the book that’s a total anagram and answers a HUGE mystery the reader is dying to know. When you find out you KICK yourself.
“How did you not see it?” You cry! Then you applaud the author, because that was one good twist.
You can use number codes, letter codes, an object that subtly appears a lot. You can give the character an answer from the beginning and hit the reader with it at the end.
Code it. Your reader will love you.
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Do Not Plot the Ending
If youuuu want to be surprised by your ending, if youuuuu want there to be a mystery when writing you have three options.
- Plot as you go.
Write a couple of plot points, THEN write your story. Once you finish up to that point, cool, go back and write some more plot points. This will allow you to keep the journey with the characters, but will also help you brainstorm some pretty cool ideas. These ideas will keep the writing flowing and end writers block.
2. Instead of plotting what will actually happen, just remind yourself what beat will come next.
You’ll need to study beat sheets for this (or take my course, coming soon…you can opt in below to find out when!) but basically you start writing and tell yourself you’re headed towards the All is Lost moment by X chapter. Try to write towards a concept instead of a concrete idea.
3. Don’t plot the ending.
If you want to be as surprised by the ending as your reader….well don’t plot it. Plot everything up until that point, put yourself in the hardest position you can by the end of the book…then try to write your way out of it and let the crazy begin.
And remember, plot twists aren’t the be all and end all. I think Evan Daugherty said it best when he said:
What plot twists have you written that would make a reader gasp? What tips do you use when crafting a twist? Let me know in the comments below.
Get 50 watercolor plot prompt cards + bonus worksheet to come up with your 15 plus 5 plot point ideas